Steven Flohr takes the glass to his right, transfers it to his left hand and scoops ice into the cup from the well. The cups goes on the mat on the bar as Flohr fills it from the vodka bottle in his right hand, beverage gun spewing tonic on his left. He adds a straw and sets it on top of the napkin in front of Paul Kekevian, the carbonation bubbling a few notches below the rim of the glass.
“Excellent!” Kekevian said. “This is the standard we’re going by tonight.”
Flohr is one of nine students enrolled in Jeff Rogers’ bartending class, held at Club Sushi, beneath the Mohegan Manor restaurant, 58 Oswego St., Baldwinsville.
Rogers, who started in the food service industry when he was 16 as a busboy, has worked for almost 20 years as a bartender in Rochester, Maryland and in Syracuse. He saw a need to open a bartending school in the area that focuses on guest service and hospitality. He worked for years to write a manual that his students use. His only stipulation: His classes needed to take place in a bar.
“When students graduate my school, they’re not going to have that initial fear of getting behind the bar and actually serving guests,” Rogers said. “The bar is their desk.”
Rogers’ class is the only bartending school in the state outside of New York City to be certified by the state Education Department to teach in a bar.
Students are behind the oak, stepping up to the drink well where libations are prepared and surrounded by wine racks and shelves of beer and liquor.
But for now, the students stick to water. Flohr, when he’s not behind the bar, is on the other side practicing his free pours. He grasps a vodka bottle filled with water—it’s illegal to teach with liquor—and pours a stream into the tin. Then he dumps that into a measuring cup to see how close his mental estimation is. By the time the students graduate, they will need to be accurate at free pouring 0.5-, 1-, 1.5-, 2- and 6-ounce shots, all based on the timing in their heads.
There are pourers that measure to 1.5 ounces, but Rogers said that free pour is faster and more efficient in high-volume bars. But that requires that Rogers’ students are accurate when they leave his class.
“They’ll pour ’til their wrists hurt,” he said.
The students take the class for three weeks, totaling 40 hours of lecture and practice. The students vary in age and vocation: Flohr, 45, is taking the class with his 21-year-old son, Nick. Flohr enrolled so that he could use the skill as a hobby to perhaps make a little money on the side. Nick works at Empire Brewing Company as a host and busboy and always wanted to get behind the bar. When a space opened up in the class, Rogers, who works as a bartender at Empire, told him about it.
Now the father and son duo practice together, pouring doubles into tin after tin at Club Sushi. Doubles are an ounce of liquor from each hand poured simultaneously, and it takes a little more coordination than a single pour.
“Nick, no matter how many times you shake that tin, it’s not going to fix it,” Rogers jokes as Nick’s measure is a little short. But several minutes later, Nick throws his hands in the air.
“I got it!” He gets a high-five from Rogers, who maintains a low-key environment for his students.
Rogers believes that anyone who walks into his bar is a guest, not a customer. That mentality is drilled into each student, as is efficient service and a basic knowledge of the bar’s point-of-sale system. POS is used almost universally in bars and typically takes a few weeks to get used to. Rogers’ graduates will have a basic understanding of the software when they leave his school, which he said is another advantage to having the class in a bar.
“It’s cost-effective for the owner of an establishment to hire my bartenders,” Rogers said, referring to the experience his students will have on the computer system. “That’s beyond valuable.”
also makes time to teach his students a few tricks—referred to as
flair. The students have practiced tin flips, spins and “C” backs—when
bartenders toss the mixing tin behind their backs and catch it with a
Practicing these tricks is a lesson in patience, and several tins clatter to the tile floor as the students toss them in their time between pours. Terry Owen, one of the students in the class, bruised a knuckle practicing the “C” back. To her, it’s a small cost for the chance to do something new.
Owen recently retired from Verizon Communications as a customer service representative and, despite volunteering at the Golisano Children’s Hospital at SUNY Upstate Medical University, could feel herself getting bored. When she saw Rogers’ ad for the class, she went back and forth and back and forth, but she finally decided to sign up. She came in nervous but has loved the atmosphere and learning with the class.
“I have 11 new friends now,” she said. Owen doesn’t see herself fitting into the scene at Armory Square, but she would like to check out her options at slightly more low-key places, such as at golf courses or at weddings. She was excited to explore her options after she graduated last week.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing what’s available,” Owen said.
She reaches for the bottles and pours again.
“With anything, practice will make you better.”